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Collateral Damage: Apologies and Compensation

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 12/10/2015 Mark Siegel

Within days of the US Air Force attack on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan that killed at least 12 doctors and staff and 10 patients, US President Barack Obama personally apologized both to the head of the organization and to the President of Afghanistan. Yesterday the US Pentagon said, "DOD [Department of Defense] believes it is important to address the consequences of this tragic incident" and pledged appropriate compensation to the families of the victims.
It is notable that this response of the United States government stands in marked contrast to a similar incident that occurred in Pakistan in 2011. On November 26, 2011 US jets and helicopters bombed and strafed a garrison of sleeping Pakistani soldiers at Salala in a prolonged 30 minute assault that resulted in the deaths of 28 innocent victims. Like the attack on Doctors Without Borders, victims on the ground repeatedly notified US air command that they were under attack from friendly fire. But unlike the US response to the Doctors Without Borders killings, the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon refused to apologize or offer compensation to the families of the young soldiers who were cut down. It took eight painful months, and a near total rupture in US-Pakistan relations over Salala and the interruption of NATO supply routes through Pakistan, for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to finally, on July 3, 2012 issue a tepid apology. There has been no compensation to the affected families.
The anomaly in response to parallel incidents raises serious political and ethical questions. The treatment of a US attacks resulting in 22 deaths - western doctors and local staff - at the western-sponsored Nobel Prize winning institution contrasts dramatically with the treatment of Pakistan and its 28 local fatalities. Pakistanis across all political and economic spectrums, then and now, clearly understand this pattern of double standards demonstrated by the US with respect to innocent civilian deaths, or "collateral damage" in the jargon of the Pentagon. In "the battle for hearts and minds" that shapes the politics of our global era, the US has continued both policies and rhetoric that are viewed by rank and file Pakistanis as confrontational and aggressive.
This week NATO and the United States strongly denounced two incursions of Turkish air space that violated the sovereignty of Turkey. Yet there have been at least 319 US drone attacks on Pakistani soil resulting in the deaths of at least 1374 non-combatant Pakistani citizens. The US Council on Foreign Relations estimates up to 4404 civilian fatalities. The independent British Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that from 2010-2011 385 Pakistani civilians were killed in US drone attacks, including at least 160 children. The US CIA claims, however, that in the same period US drones killed 600 militants with zero civilian casualties.
A Stanford and NYU study in 2012 reported that US drones were "killing a high number of innocent civilians." The UN Commissioner on Human Rights said, "the attacks were indiscriminate." And former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has famously said, "There were fewer civilian casualties in Cambodia [from American bombing] than in US drone attacks."
And for these collateral deaths, likely including thousands of women and children as noted by the Council on Foreign Relations, there have been neither apologies nor compensation from the US government.
On a purely political level the consequences of this double standard in US policy does not serve US strategic interest. Similar to a mantra in the US over this spring and summer concerning its internal racial problems, we should also say that "Pakistani lives matter." If the US truly desires the positive bilateral relationship with the government and people of Pakistan to which it so often alludes, it must begin to treat the victims of its policies in the region with greater fairness, dignity and respect.

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